criteria of firmness, commodity and delight
remain valid but need updating as we try to define good
is no longer just structural integrity, but also
durability, an important and sometimes
difficult quality to achieve. Commodity means usefulness
but also clarity so that a building allows
the visitor to understand its organization. We delight
in a building’s appeal, as it applies mostly,
but not totally, to appearance and visual
will a building last over time without unreasonable
maintenance or major modification?
affect durability the most: design and materials. If
either of them is inadequate, any part of a building can fail
building will fail eventually and, after a point, can only be
kept intact with the extraordinary means that is suited for
buildings of great historic
question is: Was the building constructed to last and to
function over its appropriate life span? A strip
shopping center does not need to last 100 years but we expect
that and more of the St. Louis Art Museum, a federal
courthouse or the Gateway Arch. At the beginning of any
building project the relationship between durability and cost,
not just for structure and shell but for the mechanical
systems, is an issue worth thinking about.
examples of durable buildings:
The Eagleton U. S. Courthouse
(1) uses high quality exterior and interior materials in the
form of stainless steel roof domes and terrazzo floors in the
main public spaces.
The East Building of the St. Louis
Art Museum (2) employs clean lines and simple shapes that
belie the high quality of materials and finishes that will be
apparent when the addition opens at the end of
The same is true for the recent
addition (the Bloch Building) to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of
Art in Kansas City although its forms are far from simple.
Durability’s opposite is
obsolescence. It concerns the adaptability of a building
to functional and technological change. Vitruvius dealt
with a slower rate of change. We reconfigure our office
environments so often that they are typically composed of
demountable partitions that can be relocated, updated, or
replaced without affecting the building
Premature obsolescence, or
uselessness, can be a significant flaw in a building. A
building conceived as rigidly specific to its intended
function maybe destined for early demolition - a terrible
the building’s use apparent from the outside? Can you
understand the building’s organization as you enter and move
through it, especially if it is a public building? Are the
In public buildings the visitor should
enter a lobby or atrium that provides a clarity of
understanding of how the building is
St. Louis City Hall (5) the visitor enters an open
central space (6) from which stairs and elevators lead to
open corridors and offices.
The Bloch Building of the
Nelson-Atkins Museum (7) in Kansas City has an addition
that is unusual in many ways including its linear
organization. A long but far from boring main circulation
space takes the visitor gradually past and through various
galleries. (8) Visitors do not mind the walk and in good
weather they can make the return trip through the sculpture
Is the building a pleasure to be in? Is
the image of the building appropriate to its role?
Does the building appeal to you on inside as well as
outside? Architecture differs from sculpture. It
has a sheltering function to fulfill, it requires great
investment beyond the designer’s resources and it goes beyond
exterior form to create interior space using materials and
Two very different buildings are both
appealing:The Saint Louis Art Museum’s 1904
Beaux Arts Main Building uses the Sculpture Hall (9)
as a central organizing space. The main galleries extend from
it in two and three dimensions. It provides a sense of arrival
as a place to enjoy, get your bearings, and to decide what to
see. It proclaims the value of
The Kaufman Center for the
Performing Arts in Kansas City (10) uses soaring forms to
create pre function spaces for the performances in this
recently completed venue. The building’s public lobbies
are really a single space that combine verticality with full
height glass walls giving a feeling of being in the outdoors.
These three criteria of
durability, clarity and appeal help to define
good architecture. However, the examples used are all
large public buildings on which a great deal of time and money
was spent. These buildings were also, for obvious
reasons, built to last a long
The next issue will include some
smaller but significant buildings that still fulfill the
criteria of durability, clarity and appeal. It will also
consider some that do not appear to fulfill these criteria
along with the reasons they fall
issues of DESIGN NOTES can be found under Topics of Interest
Eagleton Courthouse Interior, Image courtesy of U. S. General
2 East Building with 1904
Beaux Arts Main Building behind, Image courtesy, St. Louis Art
Museum and Architectural Wall Systems, Photo by Jacob Sharp,
David Chipperfield, Architect.
3 East Building at
dusk, Image courtesy St. Louis Art Museum, David Chipperfield,
4 Aerial view of the Nelson-Atkins.
Copyright Timothy Hursley. 2006, Courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins
Museum of Art.
5 St. Louis City Hall Exterior,
Brandon Bartoszek Photographer.
6 St. Louis City Hall
Interior, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Washington, D.C., HABS MO,96-SALU,68—8, B& W Print,
7 Bloch and Nelson-Atkins Buildings from J. C.
Nichols Plaza. Courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Copyright Timothy Hursley, 2006
8 Interior of the
Bloch Building. Courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Copyright Timothy Hursley, 2006, Steven Holl,
9 St. Louis Art Museum, Sculpture Hall, ,
Image courtesy, St. Louis Art Museum, Cervin Robinson
Photographer, 1977, Cass Gilbert, Architect.
10 Exterior by
Tim Hursley, Courtesy Kaufmann Center, Moshe Safdie,
11 Brandmeyer Great Hall photo by Tim Hursley,
Courtesy Kaufmann Center, Moshe Safdie,